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MADU, Hycentha F. I.: A Critical Analysis of the Portrayal of Women in Phone Swap and The Meeting

A Critical Analysis of the Portrayal of Women in Phone Swap and The Meeting

Hycentha F. I. MADU

Department of English/French

Nigeria Police Academy

Wudil, Kano State


GSM: +234-802-945-6608


Nigerian film producers and directors over time have reduced the women to the dependent character whose success depends solely on an overbearing male personality. The character of the woman is usually shallow and emotionally weak. This study seeks to evaluate the gender component of Nigerian video films. To achieve this, two films have been selected, namely: Phone Swap and The Meeting. The selection of the video films is based on their literary quality, spread, and popularity. The films were watched by the researcher and evaluated against the feminist literary critical tenets, expressed by different scholars through the ages. The researcher observes the apparent emphasis on the courage and strength in the female characters against domineering male counterparts. This paper shows that the female character is a rounded personality who when given the opportunity can successfully play the masculine role.


The importance of the film industry to the development of literature cannot be over emphasized. This reality is borne out of the fact that the film industry in the world and Nigeria in particular has promoted the exploration of societal and cultural values inherent in the development and projection of values of such societies. To this end, it becomes imperative to analyze the production and values imbedded in this film from the point of view therein. The configuration of the purpose of this research endeavour seeks to analyze as well as project a framework for the realization of these ideals, bearing in mind the thematic projection of the film. The analysis done will be projected from a holistic feminist perspective based on available character traits of the characters and the roles they have played consciously or unconsciously to the development and profession of the film.

In achieving this, the effects of these actions on the development of the plot will also be harmonized against the back fall of the thematic preoccupation of the film and the possible social relevance it has on the society it is emanating from. The character traits, actions and inactions of the major characters will be harmonized as it has to do with the roles they play in the film. The representation of societal life and values in this film project is in no small measure responsible for the relevance of the film. In doing this, attention has been placed on the value and lessons drawn from the film along the line of social relevance and images of contemporary society and art that exists therein. The purpose of this paper is to as much as possible to project a feminist interpretation to the film under study.

Feminist Literary Theory/Feminist Film Theory

Feminist literary activities arising in conjunction with socio political feminism critiques patriarchal language and literature by exposing how these reflect masculine ideology. It examines gender politics in works and traces the subtle construction of masculinity and femininity, and their relative status positioning, and marginalization within works.

            Beyond making us aware of the traditional Language of marginalization placed on the woman by nature there is a constant placement of priority as it has to do with the role and position of the woman folk in the development and harmonization of roles and schedules by both the cultural and other social strata of the society. The thematic preoccupation of the feminist school of thought is the concern for the stereotypical representation of genders. It may also trace the history of relatively unknown or undervalued woman potentials propagating their rightful place within the literary canon, and help to create a climate in which women’s creativity may be fully realized and appreciated. To this end, therefore, Oppermann opines that the emergence of feminist literary theory is one of the major developments in literary studies that seem to rediscover the position of women whose contributions to the development of the world is undeniable.

Despite these discourses, most feminist literary theorist share several assumptions. They agree that hierarchically ordered Male-Female gender relationships impacts all aspects of human social existence including apparently endangered categories of thoughts by establishing a series of binaries such as active/passive, universal/particular, presence/ absence. Because literary representations have concrete material effect on people’s lives, these non-symmetrical male-female binaries both illustrate and reinforce the oppression of real-life women and their potentials.

The feminist film theory is focused on the function of women characters in particular film narratives or genres and the stereotypes of a society’s view of women. The Treatment of Women in Movies (1974) analyzed how the women portrayed in film related to the broader historical context, the stereotypes, the extent to which the women were shown as active or passive, and the amount of screen time given to women.

            In films, the male gaze a term introduced by Laura Mulvey, occurs when the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man. A scene may linger on the curves of a woman’s body, for instance, hence its referral to being the Male Gaze. Male gaze uses women sexuality and stereotypes of women by showing their femininity. The theory suggests that male gaze denies women and they are used as the male subject and for visual pleasure. Male gaze were considered to be misleading, which would have a negative impact on the female watchers. In feminist theory, the Male Gaze expresses an unequal power relationship.

            For some years now, some women in England have been developing a controversial approach to film theory. Their work offers new perspectives on women in film and has many valuable insights, but it also has serious methodological problems. Laura Mulvey discusses about the Feminist Film theory in her essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema written in 1975. She identifies three perspectives that occur in film which serve to sexually objectify women. The first is the perspective of the male character on screen and how he perceives the female character. The second is the perspective of the spectator as they see the female character on screen. The third joins the first two looks together: it is the male audience member’s perspective of the male character in the film. This third perspective allows the male audience to take the female character as his own personal sex object because he can relate himself, through looking, to the male character in the film

            Laura Mulveys theory suggests that there were two separate modes of the male gaze of this era: voyeuristic (i.e. seeing women as whores) and fetishistic (i.e. seeing women as Madonnas). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” expands on the theory, saying that sexism exists not only in the content of a text, but may also exist in how the text is presented; through its implications about its expected audience. Theorists note the degree to which people gaze at women in advertisements that sexualizes a woman’s body even when the woman’s body is unrelated to the advertised product.

The Film Industry in Nigeria

The history of film in Nigeria could be dated back to 1903 during the screening of first motion picture in Lagos. The film was shown by one Balboa of Spain under the management of Herbert Macaulay. When Balboa left Nigeria in September 1903, a European, Stanley Jones began showing films at the same venue. In 1907, the Catholic Priests 20 in Lagos began showing films about the life of Jesus. The film portrayed Judas as a man with a dark skin while Simon Peter was a man of a lighter skin. By 1921, film had become a very popular means of entertainment in Lagos (Mgbejume page?).

            In 1920s, instructional films were introduced into the country and by 1929, some local experiments were made on the use of film as an instrument for the dissemination of government health policies by two colonial government officials namely: W. Sellers in Nigeria and A. Paterson in Kenya (Smyth cited in Shaka page?).

During the World War II, the British used films as a medium of dissemination of war information. Generally, it could be pointed out that film production started late in Nigeria, long after film distribution had gained popularity. It was only in 1947 that the Nigerian government established its own film unit, the Federal Film Unit, which replaced the Colonial Film Unit (Mgbejume page?). A Federal Ministry of Information Mimeograph identified the main objectives of the Federal Film Unit as the production of newsreels and documentaries for mobile cinema units, public cinema and television. Its films were designed to accomplish the specific goals of:

  1. Publishing the activities and objectives of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
  2. Helping to educate the public on methods of improving its way and standard of living.
  3. Portraying the achievements of the Nigeria culture and informing the public of news events within and outside Nigeria (2).

Film is a unique means of communication its visual bias gives it a universal appeal and impact. It is the link between all aspects and forms of literate. Films play an important role in the development of any group of people, ethnicity and race as a nation or country. It is a veritable tool for national development. One of the areas in which films perform this duty is in the realm of culture. Film helps to preserve a culture of a people from eroding away and this is the focus of implementation of the Nigerian National Policy on film article.

            Apart from the fact that the film industry is a big employer of labour in the economy, film like other aspects of the theatre is a meeting point of all the art; painting, carving, writings; prose, poetry, drama among others. Film is a big art form that requires involvement and participation in the film making process. Most films play an important role in education and human resources development. Film play a vital role in social mobilization and information, film is used to popularize government policies and ideologies amongst the masses, given its ability to hold to captive audience. Films are used more than any means of mass communication to promote ideas of positive social transformation as well as to consolidate and build new relationships between culture and national development. The film is also important in the development of a nation’s population through the adoption of themes which emphasize the desirable rather than the negative aspect of present social existence and projection of heroes and heroines that refuse to get involved in the ills and evil around them. According to Onuzulike Uchenna, Nigerian video films are deeply rooted in Nigerian cultural traditions and social texts that focus on Nigerian community life. Nigerian video film stories are told using African idioms, proverbs, costumes, artefacts cultural display and the imagery of Africa… movie production helps to distinguish the differences and transformations that have occurred in Nigeria (page?).

            Despite its fame, some cities both local and international see the Nigeria Film Industry as a poor imitation of the real thing. Productions are plagued by technical hitches. The films also have significant influences on the way others see us, and hence on the way they relate with us. Nigerian films more or less do not seem to be aware of the shifting parodying in women’s discourse. Consequently some of the films are gender insensitive and many still abide by the traditional and conservative attitude toward women. Women are portrayed in most films as prostitutes, at best courtesans, wily lovers and witches. They are prone to unimaginable nudity. This negative portrayal cuts across from north to south, though with different intensity. The dynamics of the Nigerian social situations are not left out, movie makers from the North have accused film makers from the South of sexual immorality and indecency in their productions. This reality is typical of the Nigerian highly religious setting where most issues are viewed along religious lines.

Synopsis of Phone Swap

Phone Swap is a 2012 Nigerian romancecomedy drama film written by Kemi Adesoye, directed and produced by Kunle Afolayan. It stars Nse Ikpe Etim, Wale Ojo, Joke Silva, Chika Okpala, Lydia Forson and Hafeez Oyetoro. The film was conceived after a brief from an advertising agency to create a movie that would cut across ages 15 to 45. It narrates the story of Mary who works under a very stringent boss and Akin who is very bossy and isolates himself from people around him. They both bump into each other at the airport, leading to their phones being swapped. This leads to an exchange in their destinations and the need to help carry out each other's assignments.

Analysis of Phone Swap

Phone Swap is captured with the main character Akin an ambitions arrogant corporate executive and “matured Bachelor” on the other hand is Mary Oyenekwe a Fashion Designer who works for a “shark” at Alexis. Akin poses as a threat to his boss who is determined to deal with him. He has the information strategies of his company and does not want to share it with anyone thus the venue of the retreat where the information will be needed is kept away from him. He charges his Personal Assistant, Alex to unravel it. Mary on the other hand has to contend with a broken heart and an overweight sister, Cynthia, who is a police officer who specializes in terrorizing her husband, in-laws and is nowhere to be found after grabbing her husband’s manhood. Mary’s father insists that she must be present at the family meeting where the burning issue of her sister’s marriage is to be discussed while her boss disapproves of same. Her presence is needed because her father wants to encourage her to get a husband and also because she is the only one whom Cynthia her sister listens to and obeys.

            The retreat has been scheduled to hold in Abuja and both parties in the interplay scenes humidly make a dash for the airport. They accidently bump into each other and their phones blackberry falls off. However, texts messages received on their phones after their destined venues with Akin heading for Owerri and many for Abuja. This costly “phone swap” therefore attempts to rip apart their professional and family life, but Akin suggests a hasty solution to the looming problem. This event subsequently leads to a relationship bargained as a result of the dramatic irony of the phone swap event. Akin eventually ends up in Mary’s house in Owerri while Mary ends up in Akin’s mother’s house in Abuja.

Despite Akin’s character as a proper, slave driver, he did not slip up once, and so was Mary, she played her role of a woman just realizing how powerful her talent could be perfectly. Initially, she finds it difficult to adapt to people of the higher class like Akin’s mother and friends but as she gradually adjusts herself to live up to the situation and challenge she finds herself in, comes out as a strong and determined female character who can discharge her married boyfriend and her boss (Alexis saved in her phone as Alex) to face her future.

Akin’s girlfriend, Gina, has a lot of flaws at the beginning of the film where she is introduced as a mischievous girlfriend. She rallies up herself in later scenes and ends up attempting to get back a decent life and Akin. Unfortunately, her attempt to get back Akin is flawed by her brutal character which leads to a fight in public.

Mary's sister is a character who lets her job interfere with her family life. She is brutal to her husband and is in the habit of beating him up. She is accused of pulling her husband's manhood which leads to her returning to her father’s house and to her father summoning Mary for the family meeting aimed at resolving the issue. Akin talks to Cynthia on behalf of Mary since Mary perceives that her sister Cynthia likes Akin and can take advice from him. After listening to Akin she accepts to behave responsibly at the family meeting and to start behaving responsibly at home in order to preserve the future of her kids. At the meeting she kneels down for the Elders and apologizes to everyone in a sober state and eventually bursts into tears. Initially, Cynthia has the personality of a domineering male character but for the sake of her children, she is tamed to a dove in the sight of her husband but to the public, she still remains that dominant personality to those who broke the law in the society where she serves as a Police Woman.

Akin’s mother is presented as a drunk trying to obtain her son’s forgiveness for the way she neglected him when he was young. The unforeseen role played by Akin’s mother, who eventually is the Managing Director of the company where Akin works, captures the strength of the feminist ideology under study. Allusion is made to her husband who is Akin’s father and semblances of problem related instances are made to have existed between them which eventually led to their separation. She refuses to be weighed down by the happenings, of this reality but is bent on recovering her son whom distance and work have long separated. The unit of trying to bring Akin home enhanced by the irony of the phone swap incidence at the airport captures the determination of the woman in an attempt to achieve a purpose for which she is set for. The tendency to capture the strength and project the course of the female character is seen beyond the character not as an attribute that is embedded in the woman. To this end therefore, the ideas of feminism, the development of the film industry in Nigeria and the reflection of contemporary issues in these films constitutes a framework for the exploration of the genre in the Nigerian literary scene.


Arising from the foregoing therefore Afolayan’s “phone swap” has captured the essence of love as a result of the interplay of a dramatic irony on the scene at the airport. The desperate desire of a mother whose son has decided to stay away from and her attempt to recapturing him are also analyzed bearing in mind the tricks involved. It also captures various rounded female characters in the society and their reaction to different life situations. The film as analyzed has therefore provided materials for the exploration of the theme on not trust performance drama as it were, but Nigerian literature as a whole.

Works Cited

Mgbejume, Onyero. Dramatic TV Film Script Writing. Jos: Redeemer House Publishers, 1989.

Molly, Haskell. From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in Movies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

Shaka, Femi “Rethinking the Nigerian Video Film Industry: Technological Fascination and Video Domestication Game.” In Foluke Ogunleye (Ed.), African Film Today. Manzini: Academic Publishers, 2004.

Internet Sources:

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” http://imlportfolio.usc.edu/ ctcs505/mulveyVisualPleasureNarrativeCinema.pdf

Oppermann, Serpil Tunc. “Women Writers: A Historical Perspective.” http://warlight.tripod.com/OPPERMANN.html

Onuzulike, Uchenna. “Nollywood: The influence of the Nigerian Movie industry on African Culture.” http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/27166208/ nollywood-influence-nigerian-movie-industry-african-culture

"Wakeup call… Kunle Afolayan’s Phone Swap." Daily Independent Newspaper. 22 Oct. 2013. Retrieved 20 Apr. 2014. http://dailyindependentnig.com/2012/11/wakeup-call-kunle-afolayans-phone-swap/


Afolayan, Kunle (Director). Phone Swap. Screenplay: Kemi Adesoye. Starring: Nse Ikpe Etim, Wale Ojo, Joke Silva, Chika Okpala, Lydia Forson, Hafeez Oyetoro. Company: Kunle Afolayan Production, 2012.